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Jacobs v. Board of Education of Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 21, 2019

REGINALD DARNELL JACOBS, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY et al. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paul W. Grimm, United States District Judge.

         This case stems from a November 2013 confrontation between a school resource officer ("SRO")[1] and a student at Suitland High School in Prince Georgess County, Maryland. The student, Reginald Jacobs, alleges the SRO punched him in the face in a hallway outside the school gym just a few minutes after the school day ended. He has brought this lawsuit against the SRO, the County, and the Board of Education.

         The County and the Board of Education have filed a motion for summary judgment asserting they cannot be liable under 42 U.S.C. S 1983 or the Maryland Declaration of Rights. They first argue the SRO - who had removed his badge, gun, and protective vest moments before the assault - was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the incident. They also argue the school board is not a proper defendant because it did not directly employ the SRO.

         I do not find either of these arguments persuasive, as presented. Accordingly, the motion for summary judgment will be denied.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The incident that precipitated this suit took place on November 12, 2013, as school was letting out for the day. The SRO, Charles Pickard, testified in an earlier proceeding that he confronted Jacobs, then 17, outside the gymnasium after hearing him say, "Fuck the police."[2] See Pickard Test. 330:7, ECF No. 66, Ex. .. Pickard had known Jacobs from past encounters at the school, but because a ski mask was obstructing part of the student's face, he did not immediately recognize him. See Id. at 331:1, 9; see Pickard Dep. 37:1-7, 40:6-134 44:17-21, ECF No. 66, Ex. 2.

         When Pickard pressed the student to explain the outburst, the student - who was not wearing a school uniform - allegedly said, "I have a gun, too." Pickard Test. 330:11-33.1:1.. Pickard immediately reached out to frisk the student's waistband for weapons. See Id. at 331:19-24. The student allegedly pushed the officer's hands away. See Id. at 331:25-332:1. Pickard continued to pat him down. See Id. at 322:3-6. He did not find a weapon, but he felt a "spongy-like object" in the students left pocket, which, because of the way the student smelled, he suspected was one or more bags of marijuana. Id. at 332:5-15.

         Pickard rolled up the student's ski mask, at which point he recognized the young man as Jacobs. See Id. at 332:16-17. When, according to the officer's testimony, he asked Jacobs to tell him what was going on, Jacobs said, "F that police stuff. ... I ain't messing with the badge and gun shit." Mat 333:10-13.

         The two rounded the corner to an empty hallway. See Id. at 337:25-338:3. At that point, Pickard - in what he would later concede was "a stupid thing to do" - removed his badge, gun belt (including his gun, handcuffs, baton, and pepper spray), and vest, placing them on the ground. See Id. at 336:23-337:3; Pickard Dep. 51:4-12. His thinking, he testified, was: "[M]aybe I could relate to him. Maybe we can connect, you know. Maybe this thing can de-escalate." Pickard Test. 337:2-8.

         Pickard pressed Jacobs to give up any marijuana he might have on him, saying he would "just confiscate it, [and] you'll be on your away." Id. at 339:6-11. He purportedly tried several times to reach into Jacobs' pocket, but Jacobs kept pushing his hand away. See 340:21-341:6.

         A surveillance video of the encounter in the empty hallway appears to show Pickard grabbing Jacobs and pushing him against a wall. See ECF No. 66, Ex. 3A. At one point, the officer backs up and drops to his knees, folding his hands as if in prayer or as if he was pleading with the young man. "I said, hey, look, man, I'm praying please don't touch me no more," Pickard later testified.[3] The video (which, though helpful, is of limited value in clearly ascertaining what took place) appears to show Pickard rise to his feet and punch Jacobs in the head, knocking him to the ground. The officer's testimony was that Jacobs - possibly startled when the policeman "popped up" from the kneeling position - was simply off balance, and fell. See Pickard Test. 342:20-343:2. He said he merely grabbed Jacob's hood "so he wouldn't hit the ground hard." Id. at 343:3-8, 354.

         Standing over Jacobs, who was "balled up" on the floor, Pickard reached into the young man's pocket, where, instead of marijuana, he found a set of earbuds. Id. at 343:22-344:3; see Pickard Dep. 53:5-9. Undeterred, Pickard recovered his badge, gun, and vest, placed Jacobs in handcuffs, and escorted him to the school's security office. See Pickard Test. 344:12-15; Pickard Dep. 58-1. He then placed Jacobs in his police car and drove him to the Palmer Park police station. See Pickard Dep. 59:7-60:17. Pickard filled out a form to charge Jacobs with second-degree assault and disorderly conduct. See Pickard Test. 377:23-378:9.

         Jacobs was never prosecuted. See Mot. Summ. 1. 2. Pickard, though, was. In 2015, a circuit court judge in Prince George's County convicted him of reckless endangermen,, misconduct in office, and second-degree assault. See Pickard Dep. 72:10-73:9; Am. Compl. ¶ 23, ECF No. 22. The judge issued him a suspended prison sentence and placed him on supervised probation for three years. See id.

         Separately, an internal investigation by the Prince Georgess County Police Department found Pickardss actions that afternoon were both unlawful and "unbecoming" of a police officer. See ECF No. 66, Ex. 9. Accordingly, on July 30, 2015, the Department fired him. See id.

         Jacobs filed this lawsuit in the Prince George's County circuit court on November 3, 2016, naming not only Pickard as a defendant, but also Prince Georgess County (the "County",, the Prince George's County Board of Education (the "Board"), and the Prince Georgess County Police Department. See Compl., ECF NO.2. The County removed the case to this Court in March 2017. See ECF No. 1.

         A subsequently filed Amended Complaint, which dropped the police department as a defendant, sought to hold the three remaining defendants liable under 42 U.S.C. 9 1983 (Count I) and Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count II). With regard to the County and Board, the Amended Complaint asserted that their policies and practices enabled the alleged assault in violation of Jacobs's constitutional rights. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 32, 46. Counts III and IV of the Amended Complaint brought claims against Pickard exclusively, accusing him of battery and false imprisonment. See Id. ¶¶ 55-73.

         The Board and County first moved to dismiss Counts I and II under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See ECF Nos. 25, 26. I denied the motions, concluding that Jacobs had plausibly claimed that the County "knew of, but failed to address adequately, a custom of its police officers to use excessive force." Mem. Op. 2, ECF No. 34.

         Following discovery, the Board and County moved for summary judgment. See ECF No. 63. Their argument, in the main, is that they cannot be liable under either 9 1983 or the state constitution because Pickard was not acting within the scope of his employment when he assaulted Jacobs. Pickard and Jacobs have each opposed the motion. See ECF Nos. 64, 65.

         Having been fully briefed, the motion for summary judgment is now ripe for decision. No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6.

         STANDARD ...


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